College newspapers go digital, but most editors still favor print

The Loyola Phoenix is looking to focus its content to a digital platform with a “go digital” mentality, starting next academic year. This move is becoming increasingly common among college newspapers across the country, but many student journalists fear the change will decrease the publications’ readership and accuracy.

A new trend of going digital and removing print has also made its way into the greater Chicago area. The popular nightlife, music and shopping magazine Time Out Chicago announced its transition to go completely digital after majority stockholder Joe Mansueto sold his shares.

This move to total online content is beginning to trickle down to the smallest of newspapers — collegiate newspapers. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2011 “The State of the News Media” research, 46 percent of people participating in the survey claimed to get their news online at least three times a week. With print ad sales down, it has become more fiscally responsible for many papers to move to a digital platform and past the print copy, but student journalists fear online-only publications will erode credibility and accessibility.  According to a 2010 survey by the Student Monitor, 56 percent of students aren’t aware if their campus newspaper is even available online, while 63 percent of students state that they are frequent or light readers of the print edition.

The Loyola Phoenix is not the only newspaper that could become online only in the near future. According to Tapley Stephenson, editor of the Yale Daily News, even the oldest college daily could be completely online in ten years.

“The online medium can offer a lot more with interactive graphics, video or something you can actually play slideshows on,” Stephenson said. “The paper is actually quite limited.”

Stephenson also said while there are distinct advantages to a digital platform, print is still widely appreciated in today’s world.

“There is something worthwhile in being able to hold the paper. I think there is a lot of value in that still, and I don’t know if that will change,” Stephenson said.

The Student Monitor found that print college newspapers have a 90 percent weekly readership, and five out of 10 students read the paper daily. They also found that 72 percent of students have read at least one of the last five newspaper issues and 51 percent read at least three of the last five issues.

Many student journalists are concerned that moving online will affect the readership of the paper and, ultimately, its content. Moving online has a stigma in the minds of young journalists, and with different media outlets online including blogs, social media, etc., it can be difficult to set a news website apart.

Danny Funt, editor of The Hoya, the official newspaper of Georgetown University, believes that a print edition is still necessary to retain credibility.

“A large part of that, for any newspaper, is having a print product which distinguishes it from a lot of the online things of varying credibility and professionalism,” Funt said.

The idea of maintaining the print and upgrading the digital platform is something The Phoenix is focusing on for the upcoming school year. Tahera Rahman, editor-in-chief of The Phoenix, said going completely online was ruled too drastic of a measure, but the staff plans to increase their focus on and improve online content.

Some college journalists see distinct advantages to online content and, for younger journalists, making the transition to digital platforms early. Ryan Rainey, editor of the Daily Badger Herald, the official newspaper of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thinks online content will dominate the news world in the future, and students moving toward that trend now will have the advantage in the long run.

“I think people who are making the changes early and are undergoing the transition from print to online are coming in to the job market with a greater understanding of ethics and patience that comes naturally with writing for a newspaper,” Rainey said. “But they are also coming with … a sort of very unique understanding of how online readers interact with the news.”

Still, Funt defends the value of print experience for student journalists.

“I don’t think that if you say ‘I come from an online publication’ that that necessarily has the credibility of saying ‘I come from a print publication,’” Funt said. “I think a lot of their credibility is founded in print and then the online is just a nice skill set to have to go along with that.”

Gil Asakawa, chairman of the national Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Committee, thinks the entire idea of print versus digital journalism is a red herring.

“I think it is a pointless and nonsensical discussion because it’s all journalism; whether it ends up being a bunch of words on a dead tree or in cyber space,” Asakawa said.

Asakawa advises student journalists to learn how to be excellent digital storytellers and they will have success in getting a job in the future.

“The journalism in [print and digital] will be the same,” Asakawa said. “Don’t just learn how to write an article. Be fairly experienced with taking picture and taking video, and even simple editing. It will help you get a better job.”

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s “State of the Media” study stated, “More college journalism schools are launching their own hyperlocal sites as a method of training that also serves the community.” Many schools are beginning extensive training in digital journalism, as opposed to print. This is to keep up with the recent push for digital content in the mainstream media.

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